At times during a 3-2 loss Friday night to Brampton, it appeared the Thunder newcomers had been playing together and with Wichita’s veterans for years, specifically on perfect-timing passes that led to a pair of goals.
Other times, the sometimes painstaking process of blending a team, especially with a roster that hasn’t yet become settled, was playing out just as apparently. The Thunder went 0 for 8 on the power play because of hesitation within that unit rather than aggressiveness.
The Thunder is missing four of its top contributors, and with constant roster turnover offensive lines and defensive pairings are being operated fluidly. The urgency from coach Kevin McClelland isn’t in finding improved chemistry, though. It’s in getting his team to realize that unfamiliarity shouldn’t matter.
“I think that’s just got to come natural,” McClelland said. “You’ve got to be able to jump on the line with anybody and have chemistry. We got a little too cute.”
Friday, the Thunder added Thomas Beauregard, who was recently waived by Tulsa and who was one of the top scorers on the 2011-12 Wichita team that advanced to the Central Hockey League Finals.
Adding Beauregard was Wichita’s latest response to some early-season misfortune. Defensemen Jesse Dudas and Andrew Martens, Wichita’s captain, are out with injuries as are forwards Ian Lowe and Matt Summers.
Four absences can be disastrous for any team, but those four players provide distinct traits that the Thunder can’t replace in one or two replacements. The physical presences of Lowe and Dudas are sorely missing, along with the stability of Summers and Martens, key components to Wichita’s last two CHL Finals teams.
“I think it’s tough,” said defenseman Mike Wilson, who was the beneficiary, on a first-period goal, of a perfectly placed pass from Jon Booras. “We had three games in 2 1/2 days there (to start the season) and it took its toll on some guys. We just have to work together to be able to get over this hump together.”
The Thunder has lost three consecutive one-goal games, the previous two 6-5 defeats. It appeared a similar goalfest was in order Friday, when Brampton took a 3-1 lead after the first period and Wichita got to within a goal early in the second.
Wichita wasn’t without its chances, and Brampton seemingly made it easier for the Thunder by affording it eight power-play opportunities. Perhaps the lack of shared ice time is most evident during the power play, where success often hinges on players knowing their teammates’ habits and tendencies.
Friday, Wichita took a more timid approach instead of using so many extra-man chances to explore one another’s strengths. Instead of attacking the net, the Thunder often settled for shots from the edges that had little chance of going in.
“Until we start working harder and connecting and getting together as a group, it’s not going to happen,” McClelland said. “There was a lot of missed opportunities – guys fluffing on shots. Again, there, shoot the puck. How many opportunities did we have on the power play to get the puck to the net. It was just passed around the outside – cute, cute, cute.
“… We have the opportunity to shoot from the middle of the ice, but we want to pass it to the side.”
If the Thunder had figured out the power play just once or twice, the outcome could have swung. After two games and one period of poor goal prevention, the Thunder fixed its defense, at least temporarily, even though Brampton didn’t consistently attack.
As it is, Wichita has specific areas for improvement to evaluate, instead of relying on a positive break or bounce to make up the slim differences in losses.
“Other guys are in our jersey right now,” McClelland said of adjusting for injuries. “But that’s no excuse. If guys want to keep their jobs, they better start producing.”
Scoring—1. Brampton, Fournier (MacIsaac, VanderVeeken), 0:48; 2. Wichita, M. Wilson (Booras, Hostetter), 11:28; 3. Brampton, Collins (MacIsaac, Fournier), 11:39; 4. Brampton, Pitton (unassisted), 15:12. Penalties—Brampton, Martens (cross checking), 4:04; Wichita, Gruenke (interference), 18:40.
Scoring—5. Wichita, Walker (J. Wilson). Penalties—Wichita, Walker (hooking), 7:51; Brampton, Matheson (tripping), 12:44; Wichita, J. Wilson (slashing), 13:21; Brampton, Martens (holding), 15:41; Brampton, Collins (slashing), 17:43.
Penalties—Wichita, M. Wilson (hooking), 2:08; Brampton, Spady (cross checking), 4:39; Brampton, MacIsaac (tripping), 7:17; Brampton, Collins (roughing), 13:13; Wichita, Madden (interference), 15:32; Wichita, Beauregard (too many men bench minor), 17:54; Brampton, Fournier (holding), 19:06.
Power play—Brampton 0-6, Wichita 0-8. Shots—Brampton 9-10-4—23, Wichita 13-14-9—36. Saves—Brampton, Rollheiser 34-36; Wichita, Jung 20-23. T — 2:30. A — 4,678.